The truth underneath the rim

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Rolling up the origins of Canada’s favourite coffee-based promotion

Natasha Tersigni
News Editor

With all the red cups floating around campus this time of year, their “PLEASE PLAY AGAIN/REESSAYEZ S.V.P.” messages turned plaintively toward the sky, it seems as good a time as any to regale one another with the story of how Rolling Up the Rim came to be a thing in the national Canadian consciousness.

Common Ground customers, feel free to turn the page.

Last year, I was working for a farming paper in Winnipeg and was sent to a farming conference – I know, what are the odds. – where the keynote speaker was Ron Buist, former marketing director for Canada’s favourite coffeehouse, Tim Hortons. If you’ve ever passed a Timmy’s on the edge of Regina at 6 or 7 a.m. and taken a look at the drive-thru lane, you can probably guess why the keynote at the 2011 Manitoba Special Crops Symposium was a marketing guy from Tim Hortons.

Unfortunately, Buist didn’t bring free coffee, but he did offer some small business advice, and told the story about how the contest-cum-national-craze came to be.

Simply put, the famous Roll Up the Rim to Win contest came from the company going near-broke.

In 1985, Buist was asked to come up with a new contest idea to generate more business. He thought of the traditional scratch cards or pull tabs. But all of these ideas had extra paper costs related to them. Extra paper means extra money and, at the time, the company didn’t have any spare change.

After a meeting with the company’s cup manufacturer, Lilly Cup, Buist got the idea for Roll Up the Rim from seeing the cup pattern laid out on a sheet of paper. The only spot where there was no printing was on the lip of the cup, because it was to be rolled down. After a quick test run, it was proven that ink could be printed there and not rub off.

That is how limited resources and creative and efficient thinking created a contest that put Tim Hortons, a struggling doughnut chain, on the map.

Buist attributes starting in small communities as the ultimate reason of success for the doughnut chain. Franchises started up in small communities where there was no competition and real estate was cheap.

“Tim Hortons did a business that no one else wanted to do,” Buist said. “The doughnut shops were open all the time. So the young people would go there, have their product and coffee, and as Tim Hortons grew they moved to where they could afford the real estate.”

As the country grew, so did Tim Hortons; the rest, as they say, is history. As the franchise started to move into bigger cities, there were Tim Horton’s waiting there for the kids from the original small communities, who grew up with a Tim’s and moved to the city for school or work.  And when they did, there was a rim there, waiting to be rolled up.

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